Helm was talking about ‘system,’ and McEvoy’s post on “Popper’s ‘System’
reminded me of Donald Davidson who, in a way, was obsessed with ‘conceptual
schemes,’ where such things can also, and colloquially, too, be referred to,
each one, as a ‘belief system’ or a ‘system of belief,’ if your grammar is more
Since I see that ‘reasoning’ (or rationality) seems to be some continuing idea
that informs both Popper’s ‘System’ and Grice’s System, I have entitled this
note as I have, since perhaps I can explore in what ways Grice’s idea of
‘reasoning’ differs from what other philosophers’ idea – and also because in my
previous notes it wasn’t perhaps clear that what provides a ‘unity’ (both
longitudinal and latitudinal) to Grice’s ‘system’ is this ‘rationality’. It’s
good Grice’s given name was “Paul”, which allowed Grandy & Warner to offer him
a sort of festschrift under the title P. G. R. I. C. E. that nicely illustrates
the point that ‘reasoning’ is behind it all: “Philosophical Grounds of
Rationality: Intentions, Categories, Ends.” (Grandy & Warner thought that a
book featuring ‘Grice’ would not sell as much as one which wouldn’t – and they
learned of the power of acronyms from Lewis Carroll!).
The issue (as Americans call it – hey, and some other people, too – Grice was
English!) of ‘system’ was brought up by L. Helm – he was referring to the
challenge to The System, by Gadamer and Witters, as Helm experienced these
philosophers in his studies.
McEvoy is now focusing on Popper’s “System”. The scare quotes are McEvoy’s!
McEvoy provides an excellent précis of Popper’s ‘System,’ and I’m starting to
see McEvoy’s general ‘strategy’: if some, say Helm, suggest that Witters is
unsystematic, trust McEvoy to provide good clues to think otherwise. And if
someone suggests that Popper _is_ systematic, trust McEvoy to provide clues to
think otherwise, especially when he notes:
“It has to be said that Popper's theory of knowledge would be overthrown if we
found a SYSTEMATIC way to produce or generate correct knowledge (as opposed to
a systematic way to correct (already generated) knowledge by criticism and
When I first read the above, I read it: “It HAS BEEN SAID that…” – and I
thought Bartley or other! I now see McEvoy’s phrasing is more subjectivistic.
McEvoy is making the point, if I understand McEvoy alright, that part of
Popper’s charm is that his ‘system’ relies on the fact that there is ‘no
system’ to produce or general correct knowledge (to use McEvoy’s phrasing) –
since, almost alla Feyerabend, everything seems to do. Perhaps Popper is
thinking in Hanson’s terms of how ‘abductive’ heuristic can be – or something.
I enjoyed McEvoy’s treatment of
i. All swans are white.
ii. Here is a white swan.
iii. Most swans are white.
iv. Where there is a swan, it is *probably* white.
v. Here is a non-white swan.
A variant on Reichenbach’s “All ravens are black.” Since McEvoy later expands
on ‘blind systems’ of animal knowledge, I wonder if a raven knows this. I
suppose Poe would say the raven does. An albino raven is not usually referred
as a ‘falsifier,’ so the point is tricky. I think Austin uses the ‘swan’
example in his William James lectures. I think Austin’s point is that, when
taken substitutionally, ‘all swans are white’ may IMPLICATE “unless we’re
talking of those in Australia (which are black) and South America (the
black-necked swan). Grice would joke on the fact that a ‘black-necked swan’ is
possibly white. And black. And white and black. (Cfr. his ‘Do not be more
informative than required.’) But I disgress!
For the record, below, the precis of this new essay by N. Maxwell I was
referring to in a previous note.
A REVIEW OF N. MAXWELL, “Karl Popper, Science and Enlightenment (UCL Press).”
(‘review’ is a bit pretentious, since it’s mainly Maxwell’s own words, here!)
Popper is famous for having proposed that science advances by a process of
conjecture and refutation.
He is also famous for defending the open society against what he saw as its
arch enemies – Plato and Marx.
Popper’s contributions to thought are of profound importance, but they are not
the last word on the subject.
They need to be improved.
Maxwell’s concern in “Karl Popper, science and enlightenment” is to spell out
what is of greatest importance in Popper’s work, what its failings are, how it
needs to be improved to overcome these failings, and what implications emerge
as a result.
Maxwell’s is a compilation of essays which dramatically develop Popper’s views
about natural and social science, and how we should go about trying to solve
A criticism of Popper’s falsificationist philosophy of natural science leads to
a conception of science that Maxwell calls “Aim-Oriented Empiricism.”
This “Aim-Oriented Empiricism” makes explicit ‘metaphysical’ theses concerning
the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe that are an implicit part
of scientific knowledge – implicit in the way science excludes all theories
that are not explanatory, even those that are more successful empirically than
Aim-Oriented Empiricism has major implications, not just for the philosophy of
science, but for science itself.
Popper generalised his philosophy of science of falsificationism to arrive at a
new conception of rationality – critical rationalism – the key methodological
idea of Popper’s profound critical exploration of political and social issues
in his The Open Society and Its Enemies, and The Poverty of Historicism.
This path of Popper, from scientific method to rationality and social and
political issues is followed by Maxwell, but Maxwell’s starting point is his
Aim-Oriented Empiricism, rather than falsificationism.
Aim-Oriented Empiricism is generalised to form a conception of rationality
Maxwell calls “Aim-Oriented Rationalism.”
“Aim-Oriented Rationalism” has far-reaching implications for political and
social issues, for the nature of social inquiry and the humanities, and indeed
for inquiry as a whole.
The strategies for tackling social problems that arise from Aim-Oriented
Rationalism improve on Popper’s recommended strategies of piecemeal social
engineering and critical rationalism, associated with Popper’s conception of
the open society.
Maxwell’s volume thus sets out to develop Popper’s philosophy in various
The theme of Maxwell’s compilation, in short, is to discover what can be
learned from scientific progress about how to achieve social progress towards a
Maxwell, N. “Karl Popper, Science and Enlightenment,” at